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Tyson to pay $2M for Clean Water Act violations in Monett

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Last edited 2:45 p.m., Sept. 27, 2017

Tyson Poultry Inc., a subsidiary of Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN), pleaded guilty in federal court today to Clean Water Act violations at its Monett slaughter and processing plant that left roughly 108,000 fish dead.

The plea agreement requires Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson to pay a $2 million criminal fine and $500,000 to maintain and restore waters in the Monett area, specifically around Clear Creek and adjoining waterways. The company also faces two years of probation, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release. Under probation, an officer will make sure the company pays its fines and adheres to other court-ordered duties. The company would again appear before a judge if it violates the terms, said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

The violations of the Clean Water Act occurred in 2014, when a tank at Tyson’s Aurora feed mill began to leak an acidic liquid food supplement known as Alimet into a secondary containment area. According to the plea agreement, Tyson hired a contractor to remove the Alimet and bring it to its Monett plant. In Monett, the Alimet was put in an in-house treatment center that wasn’t designed for the supplement. Some of the substance flowed into the city of Monett’s municipal wastewater treatment plant, where it killed bacteria used to reduce ammonia. It then went into Clear Creek, the federal investigation found, resulting in the death of the fish.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson issued a statement on behalf of the company that admitted wrongdoing.

“We deeply regret the mistake that was made and have taken corrective action to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re committed to doing better in all areas of our business, especially when it comes to protecting the environment,” the statement reads. “Since the incident, we’ve conducted lessons learned training for all environmental managers in our poultry operations and have strengthened our environmental policies and procedures to help prevent similar mistakes.”

In addition to the fines, Tyson must hire an independent, third-party auditor to examine its poultry plants nationwide to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and hazardous waste laws. In the plea agreement, the company also must improve its processes to prevent future violations.

“Our division is hopeful that the outcome of this case will help deter future violations of the Clean Water Act and keep our water supply and marine life free from pollution,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in the release. “Today’s agreement will remedy environmental harm caused by the defendant’s actions while also helping to ensure that these kinds of problems do not happen again.”

The latest action is on top of a $540,000 settlement Tyson agreed to pay in 2015 after former Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued the company over the same incident.

Tyson Foods in August reported fiscal third-quarter net income of $447 million, a 7.6 percent drop from $484 million a year earlier, according to a separate news release. The company is the nation’s largest chicken producer, according to the Justice Department.

The company’s shares were trading at $65.52 as of 12:25 p.m., compared with a 52-week range of $55.72 to $76.38.

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